Alex’s Guide to Buying Your First Gong
Fantastic, so you have decided to buy your first gong? Well done! They are amazing instruments and will provide you with a lifetime of joy. However, they are expensive and truly unique so choosing the right one for you can be a minefield. Having been fortunate enough to study under one of the worlds finest Gong Makers and had the opportunity to make a couple of my own I can without fear of criticism state that no two are the same and even two from the same maker using the same metal, tools and method can sound completely different. Add in the fact that Gongs, like a fine wine, can “mellow” and develop layers over time and you will understand the importance of choosing one that works for you.
Knowing Apples from Oranges
When I teach students on our level one practitioner course I always ask the question “when is a gong not a gong?” and I get blank looks, the answer is “when it’s a Tam Tam” (if you go on and undertake our level one course don’t be the smart guy, keep your hand down!).
Very basically, what many think of as “gongs” are, in fact, Tam Tams. The most obvious difference is most, but not all true gongs have a raised central dome like protrusion (known as a boss or nipple) and look a little like a round shield. Indeed, there are theories that gongs were developed from shields when combatants realised the value in striking them to make intimidating noises (they are still employed by modern day police/military in riot control) but more on that in another post. Tam Tams are, for the most, flatter of face and often have hand scored lines which help with the tuning and in making a marvellous unlimited variety of sound. For simplicity I like to refer to them all simply as gongs.
Where Do You Start?
There are a few pieces of advice I would offer you which are valid for buying any gong and especially your first as it might be the only one you buy.
Try before you buy. Don’t even consider buying one until you have had some experience and opportunity to have played several types. On our level one course students have the chance to play around 27 different Gongs of various sizes and type from all the main players Paiste, Meinl, Oetken etc. I have had people tell me at the start that they are going to buy a certain gong because they have read a sales piece up on a website and it “resonates” with them. Then, after playing it realise, they cannot click with it and fall in love with a completely different one. With the price of gongs that is a mistake you will only make once!
At the date of writing this (25th July 2020) the current price of a Paiste Pluto Gong is £2,189 (from one of the major gong sellers in the UK (andertons.co.uk). So, let’s imagine you are a Scorpio star sign and because you read the sales pitch about how this gong is the one for you, you buy it without ever having played one. Then, when it arrives you can’t really seem to get it to play well, it just grumbles and chunters or crashes out and even after a training course you still hate it. But the Venus Gong you tried on the training course…now that really does it for you. A Venus Gong from the same retailer is £789. By being patient and actually playing the gongs could have saved you £1,400. In short do not listen to a sales pitch, listen to the gong instead. Touch it, play it, then play it again and really allow yourself to “feel” the sounds and if this gong “clicks” with you then decide.
What will it be used for? If for example you are a mobile yoga teacher who wants to incorporate gong into your lessons then portability is a major consideration for you. Gongs are heavy and an awkward shape to carry. Conversely if you have a studio space and do not intend to move it around then you can consider a larger size. What size venue will you be playing in? If you typically work in large venues and want to play to a larger crowd then bigger is better. If you want to work one-to-one with clients from your home studio then you can afford to go smaller…and the neighbours will love you.
What is your budget? Unless you intend to buy one of the cheap, pressed by machine bin-lids that you can purchase on eBay for a couple of hundred pounds, you will be looking at a seriously considered purchase. Add to the price of the gong a travel bag to protect it, a stand and mallets and the cost very quickly mounts up. Don’t compromise on sound to save money. Far better to save up for a few more months and get quality.
Ask for advice. I tell my students that “there is no such thing as a stupid question except for the one you didn’t ask”. Anyone teaching gong should be able to help you make the right decision. In addition, some, like us, have a relationship with the manufacturer that can save you a little when you come to buy.
I hope this short piece has been in some way useful to you. In essence, it’s all about you finding the gong that works for you and you really will only do that by playing with it so get out there and play gong. If you really, really must buy a gong without trying one then I can only suggest you go for a Symphonic of between 28 to 32 inches which is a pretty solid “workhorse”.